Review Summary: Kings, Because they believe in what they are creating, in their own disturbing faith. Katatonia are carrying their musical burden with pride…
After Katatonia became one of the world’s most important death/doom metal bands, they decided to let it all go and change their style. While the band has excelled at carving out a new stylistic niche, they have received criticism from those who wish that they never would have changed. Katatonia, just as fellow partners My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, took a risky walk on a different road, one that invited many new people to experience their music. With a huge commercial success, it has become evident that Katatonia is no longer the band that wrote Brave Murder Day
, but they still maintain their doom roots even though they are channeled in a very different way. This new style is a sophisticated mixture of melody, prog and catchiness, resulting in “depressive rock.” Their dark lyrics and somber orchestration further adds to the bleak outlook of their music. So in 2012 Katatonia releases their ninth studio offering, aptly titled Dead End Kings
. But is the machine starting to lose some of its oil? Katatonia has been a force to be reckoned with in the metal scene, but does their latest offering continue this trend?
First of all, the production on Dead End Kings
is top notch; it reminds me at times of Steven Wilson’s work on Opeth’s Damnation
but it contains symphonic arrangements that are backed up by electronic elements, and both of them are mixed in a very atmospheric manner. The music is dark, nostalgic and depressive in nature. It is Katatonia, so you can’t expect pop punk; however, sometimes there are glimpses of mysterious hope and glaring lights thrown in here and there. Even when Katatonia always focuses on longing, social issues and depression the music itself is a type of beautiful darkness.
Musically the album feels like there has been a death in a family. Its kin do not care about the loss, though; they’re desperately looking for his monetary testament and when the time comes it mysteriously disappears. His immediate family start accusing each other, trying to find a guilty relative; they only want to know who stole the inheritance- something they never discover. What they eventually realize is that what truly mattered was the death of a loved one, not the loss of his testament. Honestly, this is my opinion on what the album’s atmosphere projected. The lyrics are a different story and one that I will not touch. However, if you are interested, Katatonia’s main lyrical subjects are loneliness, social relations, crime, lying and depression. This issues of loss are common on this band, they are important factors that influence the album’s sound and lyrics; but just as the family realized what truly mattered was the death of a loved one, what truly matters here is the music, and saying that Katatonia’s musical approach is of a positive nature is simply a vague illusion…
Dead End Kings
is flawless in its execution; it has spectacular melodic guitar work and a very good drumming delivery that when combined with both its increasingly noticeable amounts of symphonies and gothic keyboards create an excellent orchestration department. What is all this used for? Something different, because even when the musicianship is superb this album falls short of being impressive thanks to its formulaic song structure. The constant verse-chorus-interlude- more melodic chorus- structure gets old fast; that doesn’t means the album is not good, it is great for what it is supposed to be, but it could have been so much more. It is like a Three Days Grace album. Its songs are enjoyable, yet you are always aware about the fact that they are constantly repeating the same song structures and/or riffs. Dead End Kings
does not repeat the same riffs over and over, but certainly Katatonia hasn’t changed the game much at all since Night is the New Day
. Like a Final Fantasy game you are playing, Dead End Kings
is great and enjoyable; its “plot” obviously changes but you are always using the same fighting “system.”
Jonas Renske's vocal delivery is excellent; he has a powerful tone and evidently puts lots of emotion and passion into his voice. He is a very versatile singer; not as much as Devin Townsend but close to Mikael Åkerfeldt. When comparing both of these singers, you notice his tone is less delicate and more powerful, like the alt-rock singers but without auto-tune and an obvious melancholic, very expressive twist. When looking at Dead End Kings'
artwork you will be reminded of the bird from Brave Murder Day
. I don’t know what the symbology of this is, but rather than guessing I’ll just say it looks “good.” It is cool artwork; dark and macabre and perfectly represents what this album is all about. When one looks carefully, one sees the black sun, a bird exhaling dark smoke instead of air, and a truly desolated and nostalgic background; a very good artwork indeed. There is no point in which Dead End Kings
sounded “bad,” there are average songs and good songs, but all of them are enjoyable songs nonetheless. Dead End Kings
takes the elements from Night is the New Day
and adds to them more substance, a far more varied songwriting and expanded melody. Katatonia has perfected their brand of depressive rock completely, to the point in which there is nothing else that could be added or taken away; it is all well balanced.
This is the point in Katatonia’s career in which they need to decide once again whether to continue with their perfected new sound or add something different. I hope they choose the second. Luckily for Katatonia, though, a formulaic song structure can be forgiven if the music itself is very good and contains enough variations in rhythm, melody and good riffs/chords. That is something Dead End Kings
always possesses and excels at, from the Tool-esque beginning of “Dead Letters” to the Opethish moments from “Ambitions” or “The Racing Heart;” to the electronic ballad “Leech,” this album is filled with great ideas that work along tiny details and end up making this a very varied listen. "Dead Letters" is one of the highlights. The first riff opens the song screaming, “I am a Jambi rip-off” - it evolves into usual Katatonia greatness, incorporating beautiful melodies and great melodic riffs. This song is also a recovery from the weakest tracks on the album, “ Undo You,” “Lethean,” and “First Prayer.” They are sub-par tracks and without “Dead Letters” the second side would have been weak. The last thing to note about the album’s structure is that when listened to, Dead End Kings
reveals that while it is coherent, it is not a continuous piece, and this is something that can affect you if you're looking for a "full album" experience. Most of the songs could be swapped from their respective positions with little impact on the album as a whole.
Katatonia is a band that has passed through many problems; they have experienced multiple line-up changes along the way and are still going strong after 21 years. Dead End Kings
is more than just an album title, it is the living proof telling us that in the end Katatonia, whether playing doom metal or doom rock, are still the kings of popular depressive music; even when it suffers from formulaic song structures, repetition and a an almost weak b-side, Dead End Kings
is an incredibly enjoyable album. Its obvious errors are not “errors” per se when you realize the replay-value of the music within. Recently we have seen many Katatonian peers taking the second option, “add something different” mentioned above and the result was not very good (among those Opeth‘s Heritage
), so all this lack of diversity in songwriting is compensated for when you realize that Katatonia's true power lies within their musicianship and execution. They don’t need ambition, they already know how much creativity will be placed within this show, and there is nothing else to say…. After a decade of playing their new sound, the band has reached their artistic summit, and this is their crowning achievement. Dead End Kings
is Katatonia making what they are best at, playing Katatonian music; and you can’t ask for more when “Katatonia” is a good thing to play. True respect is what this deserves, because Dead End Kings
is as good as Katatonia’s new style can essentially get.
The Racing Heart